In the old days getting the top spot on google could be bought, and I am not talking about CPC ads. I am talking about paying a so called SEO Expert to use every blackhat trick in the book to push your site to the top of google. However today Google cares more about Quality content than how many illegal backlinks you farmed. This means you can no longer outsource your link building efforts to some firm based out of India. Well you can, but it just won't get you anywhere.
So how do you get to the top of google in today's world?
Lets imagine a senario in which you are considering going to one of 10 restraunts all next to each other. You are hand cuffed to a bench accross the street, where you have to make your decision based what you can see from outside the restraunts. You can see their sign, and front entry, and watch as people go in and out.
You compare the front entries, the landscaping, the sounds ( music ), and most importantly you watch as people enter and exit the establishments. You take note of the customers, gender, age, race, clothing, and physical appearance. You notice the expressions on their faces, as they both enter and exit.
One Restraunt stands out as having the most impressive entry, but people are entering with a rather unemotional response. Another Restraunt has a rather boring front entry, but you notice that people seem to be excited as they enter, and leave hours later smiling and laughing. Then another restraunt has their front entry covered with photos of everyone that endorses them, and claims to be the #1 of its type, though you don't see very many people enter.
Your curiosity has you wanting to explore the one that people seemed to react to the most, which in this case was not the one that advertised the most, or the one with the fanciest curb appeal.
Google looks at searches in the same way. They know what you were looking for, and they know when you click on a link. Then they also know when you hit the back button and click on something else. Considering the number of sites that use Google Analytics, Google also knows how long people stayed on your site, and how they interacted with it. Using these behavioral metrics, google is able to adjust rankings to reflect how people reacted to your content.
Your goal is to reduce your bounce rate. If a person searches for you on google, looks at your site, then within a few seconds hits the back button, this is considered a bounce. Sometimes people had a legitimate reason to bounce away from you site, such as they were searching for something not even relavent to your site. But there are other times when having a poor user interface can cause people to hit the back button.
Tips to reduce your bounce rates
#1 Content above the fold.
If the content people are looking for is below the fold, then they might think they are on the wrong site and leave. Be sure that the topic of the page is clear and in a larger font to stand out.
#2. Browser Compatibility
How does your site look in the major Browsers? ( Chrome, Firefox, IE ), How does it look on Mobile Browsers? Considering the number of people who search on their phone, its important to make a website that looks good on Mobile devices. This might mean using a custom CSS sheet to better structure your content for Mobile devices.
#3 Too many Ads
If the entire top of your page is Ads. This can sometimes look like a spam site. Keep the Ads to a minimum.
#4 Faster Server
If your site takes a while to load pages, people will think something is wrong and hit the stop of back buttons, then they will try one of the other options on google. This is very important especially if you are on a shared hosting plan. This is not the days of Dialup and Edge on Mobile. Visitors to your site will expect it to be fast.
#5 Clean Design
Use good practices when laying out your content. use generous paddings around your text and elements. Use contrasting colors keep your visitors focused on what is important.
Note about Event Based SEO
Recently I helped one of my clients promote their annual NYE party. We maintained first page google ranking. I adjusted keyword density and title tags to try to nudge us just a little higher. But even after those tweaks we were still only #5. However the day of NYE, we jumped to #2. As people started to search for NYE parties, google had more data to adjust the rankings.
Google is likely to increase how user behavior influences rankings. For this reason its important to give your visitors a quality experience.